Coming off back-to-back American League Pennants, the Texas Rangers don’t have many holes to fill this winter. Their lineup, which ranked third in the league in both runs scored and OPS in 2011, could remain completely intact for 2012, as none of the 10 players with at least 300 at bats last season are eligible for free agency. Any upgrades made to the lineup would be just that.
This doesn’t mean the Rangers can’t improve or even that an upgrade is unlikely, it simply means that the club could conceivably open camp with essentially the same group that has been so successful in the past two seasons. If they do look to improve the offense, they will likely focus their efforts toward first base, where Mitch Moreland saw the bulk of duty in 2011. The Rangers have been linked to both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder as possible fits, but given the contract demands of each and the decided right handed bias of the Texas lineup, Fielder is probably the better fit should they pursue either player.
As I mentioned, however, contract demands will be an issue. The Rangers spent over $92 million on player salaries in 2011, which represented a huge increase in payroll. From 2004-2010, the club never went as high as $69 million in payroll. Of course, the club has enjoyed a pair of long playoff runs and the boost in ticket sales has resulted in some extra cash lying around. Just because the money is there right now, doesn’t mean the Rangers would be wise to spend it, however.
While the $7 million that C.J. Wilson made last season is no longer on the books, it would likely take at least twice that amount to bring him back. If you assume that Wilson will wind up getting closer to $16 million annually, that’s an extra $9 million added to the Texas payroll.
Even without Wilson, Texas will already be increasing payroll with raises due to Josh Hamilton (an extra $6.5 million), Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler ($1 million each), Scott Feldman ($2.1 million), and Colby Lewis ($1.25 million). All told, there’s an extra $11.85 million on the books for 2012 and that’s before significant raises that will be due for Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz through arbitration. If we figure them at a total of $4 million between them, that’s close to $16 million in total and pushes the payroll North of $108 million before even addressing Wilson.
In order to retain Wilson, or even to replace him with another starter (like Mark Buehrle for example), the Rangers are going to have to be okay with pushing their payroll past $120 million for 2012. If they decide instead to pursue Fielder for the lineup, that number might have to go as high as $130 million.
None of the above even begins to take into account the futures of guys like Napoli, Cruz, and Hamilton; all of whom will be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. The ideal time to extend these players would be this winter and, by my estimation, the Rangers should be chomping at the bit to do so.
One way or another, the Texas Rangers are going to have to spend significantly more money in 2012 than they ever have before. The only question that remains, is how much more will they be willing to spend to keep this club together?